Photo Essay: Community Gardens Change Lives

Community gardens and urban agriculture projects are a powerful way for people to connect with others for healthy, enriching experiences in their neighborhoods. We've long covered people changing their community with the power of gardening, so we invited our readers to share their photos and stories about their community gardening experiences. Some of the organizations we've written about have also generously contributed new images from their gardens.

Below are some of the beautiful photos and stories we gathered over the last few weeks. For those who licensed their images with a Creative Commons license, we've gathered their photos into this public Flickr group so anyone can use and remix them (and you're welcome to add your own CC-licensed photos of your community garden as well!).

New Leaf Refugee Agriculture

The New Leaf Refugee Agriculture Program is an initiative by the Multicultural Refugee Coalition, a non-profit organization located in Austin, Texas, U.S., focused on improving refugee livelihoods. The photographer behind the photos, Steve Moakley, describes the project: 

In partnership with the City of Austin and a local high school, the program provides garden plots at three community gardens in the city for refugees to use. Not only are they able to grow fresh food for their families, but working the land lets them return to activities they enjoyed in their home countries. The gardens are also a place for refugees to develop a sense of community with each other and with the general public. All of this helps them heal and process the transition to life in the United States.  


Adolfine and her husband, Sinfole, refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, pick ripened produce from their garden on a Saturday morning. Photo: Steve Moakley for Multicultural Refugee Coalition, 2016. All rights reserved.


The community gardens in the New Leaf Agriculture program have become places for families to spend time together. Chandra, center in red, lets her granddaughter help with watering the plants, while Chandra’s daughter and a family friend work on either side. Photo: Steve Moakley for Multicultural Refugee Coalition, 2016. All rights reserved.

Sharing Gardens

We featured Sharing Gardens a few years ago. Instead of a typical community garden model, where many separate plots are rented by individuals, Sharing Gardens brings people together around one large plot shared by everyone who participates. All the materials and labor are donated, and the volunteers typically come one to two times per week at scheduled times to help in all aspects of farming, from planting to harvest. The food is shared among those who have contributed and with others through food-related charities. No one is ever charged money for the food that is grown.

One of Sharing Gardens' coordinators, Llyn Peabody, shared these photos with us:

Sharing Gardens: a unique and proven approach to supporting local food self-reliance, building stronger communities, and cultivating generosity. Photo: Sharing Gardens, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License


When kids help grow and harvest their food, they're more likely to enjoy eating it. Photo: Sharing Gardens, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License


Students from nearby Oregon State university help turn the compost pile. The Sharing Gardens provides hands-on experience with sustainable, organic gardening practices. Here is a post about using grass-clippings and leaves to build soil fertility. Photo: Sharing Gardens, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License


A portion of the weekly cucumber harvest. Sharing creates abundance. Photo: Sharing Gardens, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License


Beautiful Striped German tomatoes. Sharing Gardens only heirloom or open-pollinated varieties of vegetables. Photo: Sharing Gardens, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License


Local Aid Food Pantry volunteers receive lettuce donation from the Sharing Gardens. Please email Sharing Gardens if you'd like to get our regular email updates. Photo: Sharing Gardens, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

Tear Down the Walls

Tear Down the Walls Ministries is a Christian non-profit serving the "Indianapolis commmunity by loving and trying to better the lives of those in the inner city — being the church in action."


Freshly picked peppers. Photo credit: Tear Down the Walls Ministries, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

Their intern, Anna Raney, wrote about the organization and shared stories about her experience along with some photos from their farms. 

Tear Down the Walls Ministries is a non-profit organization on the near northwest side of Indy, tucked in between abandoned houses and empty lots beside the Riverside community. The average household income in the under-privileged neighborhood is less than $25,000 a year and half the population makes less than $10,000.

The near northwest community TDWM is located in is conspicuously missing the working age. The community is made up of 50% of people who are retirement age and then another large percentage of kids under fifteen, so there isn’t a large working-age population to make money for their families. This is apparent in the empty lots and run-down or abandoned houses.

On [a] Tuesday -- our first day of the week -- we were serving our homegrown, recently-picked berries for snack and a little girl at my table told me she'd never had a blueberry. She said she was nervous to try one, but then ended up loving them. She asked for blueberries from all the other kids at the table.

I’d felt quick, almost painful jolt of thankfulness for our blueberry bushes out front that I’d spent hours watering and picking blueberries from in the hot sun, my shoulders burning and sweating outside my cut-off t-shirts.

I’d felt a quick jolt of thankfulness for all the scratches I had on my arms from the thorns in our raspberry bushes and for all the time we’d spent trying to keep birds away from the berries and for the soreness in my back from bending down and picking strawberries and for all the yellow jackets, wasps, bees I’d ran from while picking the berries.

I’d felt a painful jolt of thankfulness for this little girl sitting across from me, trying her first blueberry at an age at which I’m sure I’d had pretty much any fruit at my disposal and had tried it all.

I’d felt thankful for Tear Down the Walls.  

TDWM does some amazing things. They do homeless outreach. They’re building a home for homeless men to live in while transitioning into the workforce. They plant and tend to their community garden so to sell the produce to raise money for the community. They use what they have to help their own neighborhood and city. They give people like me an opportunity to help out with these endeavors and meet new people and hang out with great kids and, hopefully, hopefully, make a difference in this community.

To do so, though, we have to be involved in it. We have to give our berries to the kids who’ve never tried them. We have to hear about their childhoods. We have to rebuild trust. We have to stop what we’re doing, while standing two stories up on scaffolding, nail gun in hand, and introduce ourselves to people walking down the street, asking what we’re doing.

We have to be here. 

And I’m so thankful for the opportunity to be here.


Sunflower. Photo credit: Tear Down the Walls Ministries, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

Ripening tomatoes. Photo credit: Tear Down the Walls Ministries, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License


Fresh blueberries. Photo credit: Tear Down the Walls Ministries, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License


A bee pollinates a flower. Photo credit: Tear Down the Walls Ministries, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

The arugula patch. Photo credit: Tear Down the Walls Ministries, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License


Photo credit: Tear Down the Walls Ministries, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

Alleycat Acres

We recently written about this Seattle-based organization that is transforming underutilized urban spaces into neighborhood-run farms to “(re)connect people, place and produce"—and they've shared some great new photos of their gardens with us. 

 
The Alleycat Acres team at work. Photo credit: Alleycat Acres, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License


Photo credit: Alleycat Acres, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License


Photo credit: Alleycat Acres, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License


Photo credit: Alleycat Acres, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

Community Garden in Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania

One of our readers, Leslie Chalker, sent us these photos of her community garden.


Photo credit: Leslie Chalker, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

   
Photo credit: Leslie Chalker, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

 
Photo credit: Leslie Chalker, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

People United for Sustainable Housing (PUSH)

For over a decade, PUSH has been fighting for affordable housing in the West Side of Buffalo, New York. They're a membership-based community organization that has been mobilizing residents to expand local hiring opportunities and expand economic justice in the area through initiatives that prioritize shared community resources and democratic participation. They shared the following images from one of their rooftop rain gardens in Buffalo.


Photo credit: PUSH Buffalo, 2016. All rights reserved.


Photo credit: PUSH Buffalo, 2016. All rights reserved.


Photo credit: PUSH Buffalo, 2016. All rights reserved.


Photo credit: PUSH Buffalo, 2016. All rights reserved.

We hope these photos and stories inspire you to get involved or start a community garden in your area. If you want to, but don't know where to begin, please check out our resources on community gardening and yard sharingfood-based sharing projects, and strengthening neighborhoods.

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